SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — This first ever Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship is a Russian nesting doll of a tournament. It’s a tournament within a tournament within a tournament, hence the six trophies on the front table at the Bass Pro Shops anglers’ meeting Wednesday.
There are 28 pro anglers and 28 co-anglers in this field. Competition begins at 7:15 a.m. Thursday at Table Rock Lake’s Long Creek Marina.
The big prizes are on the pro side, where seven Bassmaster Classic berths will be determined. The biggest trophy goes to the winner on the pro side and includes an automatic Classic berth. The other six Classic spots will be determined by final points accumulated over the season, which included four Opens in both the Eastern and Central divisions. Three Classic spots will be awarded to the top three in the final points standings in each division. The full field of 28 will compete Thursday and Friday. Only the top 12 will advance to Saturday’s final. The co-anglers will compete for only the first two days.
Garrett Paquette of Canton, Mich., is one of several young anglers on the pro side who are trying to establish a career in professional bass fishing. Paquette, 23, is in third place in the Eastern Division standings. He has a 19-point lead over fourth-place John Cox of Debary, Fla. If Paquette can hold that lead, he’s assured of one of three Classic berths from the Eastern Division.
In a 28-man field, the most points that anyone could gain on him is 27, provided he weighs at least one keeper during the first two days. But nothing is easy on Table Rock right now, and Paquette is taking nothing for granted. There’s a 15-inch minimum length limit on all three species of bass – largemouth, smallmouth and spots.
“My mindset is I have to try to win this tournament,” Paquette said. “There’s only 28 guys and I have a 19-point lead. So you think, ‘I’ve just got to finish in the top 20, and it’s all good.’
“Well, those 28 guys that are here are the guys that have finished in the top 20 all year. I think if I fish conservatively, I’ll just get passed by. I don’t think in this tournament you can lay up at all. That’s not to say I have to win, but I have to try to win. Otherwise, I don’t see myself doing well in this tournament.”
Table Rock’s 43,100 surface acres, located on the White River in Missouri’s southwest corner of the Ozarks, are fishing differently than they did as recently as two weeks ago, when Paquette was last here.
“I came down here and pre-practiced about two weeks ago,” he said. “I lit ‘em up pretty good. So I came down here feeling pretty good, and I got my feelings hurt pretty bad in practice. The lake has completely changed since then, and it’s going to keep changing during the tournament.”
The weather will assure that’s the case. It’s forecast to be partly cloudy with a high of 62 Thursday, rainy and overcast with a high of 55 Friday, then sunny with a high of 66 Saturday.
Paquette is coming off a second-place finish in a Costa Series tournament on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. But that didn’t provide him any clues for Table Rock this week.
“They’re two totally different lakes,” he said. “If anything, that just got me in the groove of fishing again. I’ve tried some of the things that were working for me there, and I’ve not seen any correlation between the lakes.”
In polling several anglers, the consensus was that it would take about 40 pounds to win – an average of about 13 ½-pounds per day.
As this events plays out, the various scenarios for winning one of the six trophies that will be awarded Saturday and earning the seven Classic berths will be explained in detail. It’s complicated in this tournament within a tournament within a tournament.
But it will definitely be interesting: An Ozark lake that’s changing every day for a field of only 28 pros that have earned their place in this tournament by being consistently good all season.